A Catholic teaching sister once took a young boy to task who, when asked why a certain verb form should be used instead of another, responded, “Because the other word doesn’t sound right.” “No, no, no!” said Sr. Ruth, “you cannot go by what sounds right because you might be used to hearing the wrong thing. You must go by the rule!” . Sister’s point is a good one to make in all times and is especially pertinent in the age we are living in, dominated by Masonic falsehoods. It behooves us to acknowledge that we have likely heard many things that are incorrect, including things concerning our holy religion. We must strive to learn rules and not be content merely to adhere to whatever initially sounds right.
When it comes to religion, what exactly is the Catholic’s rule of faith? This is easy to answer if we look at how the Church defines heresy. Contrary to the impression some Catholics give today, a heretic is not defined as a baptized person who refuses to believe a teaching of the pope, a teaching of a pastoral council, or even a teaching of a catechism. A heretic is defined as a baptized person who refuses to believe one or more dogmas of the Faith. The definition of a heretic makes it evident that dogma is the Catholic’s rule.
Dogmas are truths revealed by God, who can never deceive or be deceived. Vatican I is referring to dogmas when it teaches, “By divine and catholic faith, all those things are to be believed which are contained in the word of God as found in scripture and tradition, and which are proposed by the church as matters to be believed as divinely revealed, whether by her solemn judgment or in her ordinary and universal magisterium.” The ex cathedra definitions of popes, the canons of ecumenical councils, and the articles of Creeds are all “solemn judgments” proposed by the Church as being divinely revealed dogmas. Teachings that have never been defined by a solemn judgment but that have been held by Catholics always and everywhere as being divinely revealed are also dogmas, knowable as such because they have been taught by the Church’s “ordinary and universal magisterium.”
When it comes to the necessity of being a member of the Church for salvation, at least three solemn judgments have been proposed as divinely revealed on the matter. The first of these is the following dogmatic definition made at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215: “There is one universal Church of the faithful, outside of which no one at all is saved.” Catholic dogmas are catholic not only in the sense that they are proposed by the Catholic Church, but also in the sense that they are universally true and admit no exceptions. The dogmatic definition made at Lateran IV contains language that clearly expresses the catholicity or universality of this particular revealed truth, that “no one at all” is saved outside the Church.
It is important also to note that Lateran IV’s infallible and irreformable definition refers to the Church as being composed “of the faithful.” It really shouldn’t need to be said, but those who do not possess the Catholic faith cannot be members of the Church of the faithful, outside of which no one at all is saved. In his encyclical Mystici Corporis, Pius XII wrote, “Only those are to be considered members of the Church who have been baptized and profess the true faith.”
While it is true to say a person in invincible ignorance of the true Faith would not be held guilty for the particular sin of not joining the Church, it does not follow that such a person could somehow be a member of the Church without converting to it, or, for that matter, even be in the state of grace. In fact, the Council of Trent teaches that the Catholic faith is “the beginning of human salvation, the foundation, and the root of all Justification; without which it is impossible to please God, and to come unto the fellowship of His sons.” Those who do not possess the true faith can be neither in the state of grace nor members of the Church.
Hearing that all those who die as non-Catholics will be eternally lost might not sound right to many in this age of religious indifferentism, but it is a truth revealed by God nonetheless. All of the apostles believed in and taught this dogma, as did all of the orthodox Church fathers, all of the North American martyrs, etc.
Charity is the greatest of the three theological virtues, but Faith is always listed before it, and St. Augustine says this is because there is a necessary order of dependence in the theological virtues. This dependence is especially apparent when considering how a person’s lack of faith in the dogma of exclusive salvation affects his charity, or lack thereof, toward those outside the Church. For if a person does not possess divine faith in this dogma, but instead believes that those who die as non-Catholics can be saved, then there will necessarily be something lacking in the prayers and sacrifices he offers for conversion, if he offers any prayers and sacrifices at all.
It is incredibly important for our own salvation and for the salvation of our neighbors that we don’t soften the dogma’s meaning merely because it doesn’t sound right to us. Only God knows to what extent the undermining of this one dogma has led to countless Catholics developing an inordinate preoccupation with solving “social justice” issues. For if religious conversion is not absolutely required after all, why not spend lots of time fighting income inequality; intolerance; global warming; and other evils, real or imagined?
 Fr. James Wathen recorded this story in his book Who Shall Ascend. The author of this article thinks Fr. Wathen’s work is one of the best books to have been written dealing with the post-conciliar crisis in the Church and how a Catholic ought to respond to it.
John Henderson is a graduate of the Catholic University of America currently working as an educator in the state of Maryland. He has been going to the traditional Latin Mass regularly for six years and is zealous to tell others of the treasures of the Catholic religion.